Changing the training and development role in the 21st C.

I received several comments on my last post on Learning and Performance in Balance. This post came about as I examined the role of training and development (T&D) in the workplace. My contention is that many organisational learning initiatives don’t achieve what they set out to do. They don’t enable learning at the individual level unless the person is already motivated and few are connected to performance objectives at the organisational level.

Instead, I think that a better approach would be for the organisation to focus on measurable performance and give workers the time and support to direct their own learning. The T&D function then provides support, but not direction, and also provides a feedback loop to develop better performance support from the organisation. This goes with Klaus Wittkuhn’s statement that:

It is not an intelligent strategy to train people to overcome system deficiencies. Instead, we should design the system properly to make sure that the performers can leverage all their capabilities.

The diagram that I developed is an attempt to show that workers know best about learning, given the time and support needed, while management understands the necessary performance indicators for the organisation to succeed.

There was some concern that such an approach would allow workers to prepare for their next job and rob the current organisation. This is a possibility but as the work environment becomes more complex it is better to have employees with diverse interests and skills who can adapt to changing circumstances, instead of only being able to deal with the current state. Management must support learning, but it is too far removed from the individual worker to be able to direct it. The real experts today are those workers closest to the problem, as I responded to Virginia Yonkers:

I think that a better approach in complex organisational environments, where there are few good practices, only emergent practices, we should look at the Cynefin Model. In a complex environment, “… in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance, the approach is to Probe – Sense – Respond and we can sense emergent practice”. My view on this is that it is better if the Probing happens from the bottom-up and then management’s role is to support these individual probe’s of sense-making. The “experts” are now those who are closest to the problem or challenge – the knowledge workers.

I’m not advocating for a Utopian state of affairs in the workplace as regards learning. We need to allocate resources better and one way is to focus on what people do best. Management deals best with what is measurable. Individuals handle all the variables that affect their lives and know what is best for them. They’ll do what they feel is best for themselves anyway. As Karyn Romeis comments, “There is just too much just-in-case, sheepdip stuff still around. There is ample evidence that, for many managers in the corporate world, training provision is a box-ticking exercise.”

Finally, Dave Ferguson reminded me that even in workplaces that require defined processes and  standardization, the workers have the ability to improve things, but need support to have these implemented. This can be the role of the T&D group in the 21st Century – to communicate what the workers have learned in such a way that management can understand it. This is a reversal of the top-down role of the industrial era.

9 Responses to “Changing the training and development role in the 21st C.”

  1. Karyn Romeis

    I suspect the answer lies in cultural change within organisations. When the culture supports individual empowerment and ownership of the L&D journey, the employees will no longer stand for sop-to-the-conscience stuff.

    Just as poor customer service tends only to improve in response to a consumer base that knows and demands its rights.

    I think the principles are related.

    We need enough assertive individuals who are prepared to say “Don’t fob me off with that. If a learning event isn’t going to add value, I’m not attending it. End of.” If one says it, that person is branded as a trouble maker. If everyone says it, management needs to take action.


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